Atlanta (CNN)The home of Martin Luther King Jr., capital of the New South and “the city too busy to hate” is again in the spotlight of protest and change related to the country’s race relations, from Black Lives Matter to the presidential election.
Recent violence will lead to grieving in a historic location Tuesday in Atlanta. Rayshard Brooks, an African American killed by Atlanta police in a Wendy’s parking lot, will be remembered at a funeral service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was co-pastor until his 1968 assassination.A man kneels at the memorial for Rayshard Brooks on June 14 at the Wendy’s restaurant where Brooks was shot two days earlier.King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice A. King, will speak at Brooks’ funeral, which starts at 1 p.m. The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Ebenezer’s senior pastor and a Democratic candidate for US Senate, will provide the eulogy.A public viewing took place there Monday afternoon.The memorial costs will be covered by hometown mogul Tyler Perry, one of the most famous and powerful Black men in entertainment, family attorney Chris Stewart said.Read MoreAtlanta in the spotlightIt is a familiar but still unwelcome spotlight for this city, where Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and rappers tried to calm demonstrations that turned violent after the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.Killer Mike speaks during the unrest in Atlanta on May 29.”We have to be better than this moment,” Killer Mike exhorted. “We have to be better than burning down our own homes, because if we lose Atlanta, what else we got?”An impassioned Bottoms implored, “What I see happening on the streets of Atlanta is not Atlanta. This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is chaos.”For them and many others, recent events are revealing that Atlanta’s vaunted self-perception as a racially progressive city might not be so simple, says Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Georgia State University instructor Douglas Blackmon.Brooks’ killing “has forced Atlanta to see the conflict between the reality and how it likes to see itself,” Blackmon says. “Atlanta likes the spotlight when it’s a warm and fuzzy spotlight. It doesn’t like suddenly having the kind of events that have occurred over the past weeks.”Like other Southern cities, Atlanta has a history of systemic racism predating the King era. “There are still a lot of skeletons in the closet that have not been dealt with yet,” he said, citing incidents going back to the 1920s and current poverty.Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the “chaos” during demonstrations last month was “not in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.”Bottoms is reportedly being considered as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.Bottoms was gaining attention even before national and global protests over systemic racism and police brutality against blacks. She pushed back forcefully when Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, began reopening the state’s economy April 24, making Georgia the first state to do so after widespread coronavirus restrictions.Another Black woman from Georgia frequently mentioned as a VP pick is Stacey Abrams, a former Democratic state House minority leader who narrowly lost a controversial race against Kemp in 2018.Civil War and civil rights; hip-hop and ‘Y’allywood’Atlanta is never shy about its aspirations to be seen as a first-class city. It was host to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games and boasts that its Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is often cited as the world’s busiest.It is home to corporate giants such as Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines, plus the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University and Georgia Tech.US Rep. John Lewis is the only surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington.The metro area — encompassing cities and unincorporated areas beyond the City of Atlanta — is know for its sprawl and traffic, often cited as among the worst in the nation. Long hailed as a mecca for the Black middle class, it also rose to the top of the hip-hop landscape, with countless top-selling acts living and recording here.US Rep. John Lewis, the long-serving Democrat whose district includes Atlanta, was a civil rights hero during King’s era.Both US senators are white Republicans — and, unusually enough, both are on the ballot in November.The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a top tourist draw.So is nearby Stone Mountain, which features a memorial carving of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson that’s larger than Mount Rushmore.The legacy of “Gone with the Wind,” written and set here, is entrenched and controversial in ever-new ways. HBO Max said it was pulling the 1939 Civil War epic from its rotation, but then added it back with a disclaimer about its racial stereotypes in the Old South.Vivien Leigh and Hattie McDaniel were stars in “Gone with the Wind.” McDaniel became the first Black Oscar winner when she won best supporting actress for the role.Its movie and TV production boom, boosted by state tax incentives, has earned it the nickname “Y’allywood.” Perry’s productions, “The Walking Dead,” Marvel movies and countless more have been filmed here.Blackmon says the current tribulations again could make it an example for other cities.”I hope we’ll see the emergence of a special kind of leadership in Atlanta,” he said. “Atlanta is probably more open to that conversation right now that at any time in the last 30 or 40 years.”